A wedding party stand in front of the main house at Gunby Hall National Trust Wedding venue for a group shot

Wedding Group photos. Are They Important & Do We Need Them?

Group shots. Formal wedding photos. Group wedding photographs. Whatever you call them, these posed, traditional wedding photos are something that all of my couples ask about. The idea of smiling for endless formal photos as groups of relatives and friends are whisked in and out for hours is the opposite of why couples book me to photograph their wedding. Unposed, authentic photos are what I do best and are the dominant trend in wedding photography. However, I feel formal wedding photos are an important part of every wedding day and when done correctly are something that is quick, painless, and creates beautiful memories for your family.

Formal wedding Photos can feel endless

We’ve all been there. That wedding where the bride and groom disappear for photos, only to emerge hours later looking battle-scarred and signalling for someone to get them a drink and a canape, quickly! We’ve all been in those lines where you shuffle towards the camera, being pulled through endless combinations by the photographer (“Next up, can we get all cousins who were born on a Monday please?”). What makes it even worse is that the best-looking canapés always seem to go past when you are standing there being asked to “smile for the camera”. If you are not careful formal photos can become hell (and looking back at them, all you can remember is how gruelling they were). The key thing to remember is, they don’t have to be!

Group Photos Are Associated with Traditional (Old Fashioned) Wedding Photographers.

Wedding photography has got so much more creative. Couples are looking for a wedding photographer who captures the true emotions of their wedding day. Terms like “formal wedding photography” or “group shots” don’t fit into this style and many photographers don’t mention it on their websites. Group shots never make the pages of wedding blogs and some of the popular wedding blogs rally against this style of wedding photography altogether. Simply put, it is not considered cool. 

For many couples, this is the part of the day that they think will feel uncomfortable and most awkward. The idea of posing for photos is one of the things I find that most couples are worried about when I talk to them. You don’t need to worry.

Wedding Group Shots Become Family History 

When you look at your parent’s wedding photos, you get to see people as you have never seen them. Grandparents look younger than you can ever remember. Your aunties and uncles look young and beautiful as bridesmaids and groomsmen. The photos feel instantly familiar, but somehow completely alien. What they always do though, is make you smile and fill you with wonder. Great photos always do that and although formal wedding photos are not the most artistic or authentic photos you will have from your wedding day, they are always the ones that create a warm, fuzzy feeling when viewed years later. 

When my son leafs through our wedding albums, he doesn’t care about the table decoration photos, he only once stopped on the cake cutting photo (and that was just to say how yummy the cake looked). Instead, he stares at the group photos, asking who some of the people (including some, now departed) in them are. It is these photos plus the candid ones of his parents and grandparents he loves and treasures.

Your wedding photos become history for every person who comes after you and the formal group shots are a big part of this. It also keeps your parents happy, which is worth its weight in gold.

A wedding party stand in front of the main house at Gunby Hall National Trust Wedding venue for a group shot

How To Get Hassle-Free Formal Wedding Photos 

The key is planning & priorities. It is easy to get a list of formal photos that number into the twenties (my record is 39 at one wedding) but if you work on each group photograph taking between 3-5 minutes, you can easily lose well over an hour of your wedding day posing for group shots. 

I would recommend that you & your fiancé create a small list of 5 – 10 must-have photos (I have some ideas for a list below to get you started). When you have your list, in my experience, it is also worth talking with both sets of parents. This way you can make sure they are happy and aware of your wishes with regard to group shots. If your parents are aware that you want to limit them (and more importantly, understand why), it will help with those “Oh you just need one with…..” moments that can occur during the day.

The best way of gathering everyone for group shots is to designate one or two members of the wedding party to be on hand to assist with finding people. This way, it helps keep the photo session moving along and means you can get back to your party sooner. 

Although they can appear daunting, years of experience mean I have ways of making the group shots quick and dare I say, enjoyable. I can also help to make sure you have a glass of fizz if you want one and that you both have a constant supply of canapés.

A group photo of the groom and his groomsmen in a garden setting

What Are The Key Group Wedding Photos?

Bearing in mind the above point on keeping your group shots between 5 & 10, here is the “must-have” list I recommend to my wedding couples when starting their lists of group shots. 

  • Couple + Bride’s parents
  • Couple + Grooms parents
  • Couple + Both Parents & siblings (plus partners and kids)
  • Couple + Bridal Party 
  • Bride + bridesmaids (and flower girls)
  • Groom + Groomsmen
  • Couple + Grandparents

This gives the must-have formal photos but also keeps things quick and painless for you as a couple. There is room to add more, it just means you need to allow more time on your wedding day for this. 

The Big Group Wedding Photo. Do I Need it & When Do I Take It?

The group wedding photo. There is always someone who is just ordering a drink at the bar (and someone else in the toilet) so these shots usually take a while to organise. If you want this photo on your wedding day, I would recommend doing it within an hour of arriving at your reception venue, as after this, guests tend to split up and it becomes harder to get everyone together for the big group photo.

The key question is, do you really want this photo? It will usually take 15 to 20 minutes to get everyone into position (the more guests you have, the longer it takes). It is not a case of recommending you have or don’t have this photo, as it can look great, just understand that this shot can take as long (or longer) than all of the 7 group shots listed above, so it is something you will need to plan into your wedding day timeline.

a group photo of a wedding party shot on a deon

How Long Do Wedding Group Shots Take?

Based on the seven group photos that I recommend above, I would suggest you allow 30 minutes (it normally takes a little less than this depending on how long it takes everyone to get into position). If you want to add more to the list, a good rule of thumb is to add 5 minutes per photo. If you want a group shot of all your guests, I would suggest allowing around 20 minutes for this photo.

As your wedding photographer, my aim is to make sure that you have enough time to get the photos you want on your day. I also want you to love your formal photos. The key isn’t limiting you to a certain number, it is helping you know how much time it will take, allowing you to plan it into your wedding day timeline.

If You Really Don’t Want Group Photos, You Don’t Need Them.

I know this is a post about formal photos. You may have read it because you are unsure or you and your partner aren’t keen but parents are insistent. Having read it you may decide you don’t want any formal photos on your wedding day, and that’s fine. The key is for you to do you.

As your wedding photographer, I make sure you have several amazing photos of all of your family & friends enjoying your day in my candid, relaxed style. If you don’t want group shots, you can enjoy your day, knowing I will be in the background getting amazing, emotion-filled photos of you with your friends and family on your wedding day. This is where the true moments of joy tend to be and are always some of the favourites of every couple.

AS grandfather embraces his daughter with complete adoration on her wedding day.

It comes down to what you want as a couple and balance.

There is a mid-point between no formal wedding photos and having to stand there for hours with a slowly dropping smile as group after group of family, relatives & friends are posed, whilst you watch your guests enjoy all the amazing snacks you chose for your drinks reception. Choose the key photos you really want to capture and keep it to ten or less. By doing this, you really do get the best of both worlds. You get beautiful group photos to treasure, but you enjoy the experience too and get more of that all-important time with your family and friends on your wedding day.

Wedding Group Photos FAQ.

The standard “must-have” formal photos are as follows:

– Couple + Bride’s parents
– Couple + Grooms parents
– Couple + Both Parents & siblings (plus partners and kids)
– Couple + Bridal Party 
– Bride + bridesmaids (and flower girls)
– Groom + Groomsmen
– Couple + Grandparents

This list gets you the key formal photos but also keeps things quick and painless for you as a couple. There is room to add more, it just means you need to allow more time on your wedding day for this. 

It is best to allow 3-5 minutes per group photo. It may be quicker for some, but sometimes, somebody has disappeared and a search party needs to be sent.

This shot takes the most time to set up due to the number of people who need to be rounded up into one place at one time. It is best to allow 15 minutes to get this photograph. It may be a little less, it may be a little more, but it is a good rule of thumb when planing your wedding timeline.

In my experience, the best time for group photos is once everyone has arrived at the reception venue and has 20-30 mins to get a drink. This way, most people are together and your guests can entertain themselves with a drink and some canapes whilst the formal photos are done.

Wedding photographers are experienced in dealing with multiple, complex family dynamics. Make sure you talk to your wedding photographer before the day to explain things and they can make sure everyone’s feelings are taken into account.

You may decide that you want a long list of group shots on your wedding day and that is fine. Just be prepared that it will take time away from mingling with your guests. In my experience, it is much better to get your key list of up to ten group photos and let your photographer know that you may want more on the day. This way, you can add group photos on the day, or you may decide you just want to go and spend more time with your friends and family. Most couples choose the second option.

Always remember ten group shots plus one of the whole wedding party will take up to an hour of your day. If you have a list of thirty, you could be spending two and a half hours, smiling and posing for group shots. This is a lot of time away from your friends & family.

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